Air India pilots await clarity on salary ahead of takeover

Air India pilots are awaiting clarity on salary dues and arrears ahead of the carrier’s privatization by December-end.

Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), a union of the airline comprising pilots operating wide body aircraft, had on 3 October written to the management of the airline seeking restoration of salaries saying the “disproportionate” pay cuts carried out during the last 18 months should be rolled back with the subsiding of the covid-19 pandemic.

The letter was addressed to the former chairman and managing director of the airline, Rajiv Bansal, who took charge as the secretary of the ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) from 1 October. It hasn’t elicited an official response yet.

Unofficially, however, pilots have been told that their concerns and arrears will be addressed in due time. However, pilots want further clarity. “If airlines are allowed to operate at their pre-covid capacity, the salaries should also be reverted back to pre-covid levels,” said a senior pilot with the airline, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In the letter, IPG pleaded with the management to reverse the pay cut before the completion of the divestment process.

“With the advent of the pandemic, our layover sustenance allowance was drastically cut to approximately one-third of its original sum resulting in a 60%-70% cut,” the letter said.

“Furthermore, our flying allowance was cut by 40%. This was only in theory. In practice, this cut amounted to 70% to 80% due to the significant reduction in the number of flying hours allotted to each pilot,” it added.

Another issue that pilots demand be settled before the airline is handed to the Tata Group is of pending arrears.

Recently, the joint action forum of unions of Air India in a letter addressed to civil aviation secretary, Rajiv Bansal, said that salary arrears of erstwhile Air India pilots operating wide body planes and cabin crew are also pending.

In the letter, the unions have also demanded clarification on options to encash or carry forward privilege leave and sick leave.

Interestingly, during the announcement of the divestment of the airline, secretary of Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (Dipam), Tuhin Kanta Pandey had said that salary dues to Air India staff totalling ₹1,332 crore will also be paid by the government. Pandey, however, didn’t provide further details then.

Some of these salary components, especially for pilots, are in US dollars while others are in rupees.

“A major contention for pilots would be the dollar value that would be considered for the arrears and if interest will be paid on them. There’s absolutely no clarity yet,” said another senior pilot with the airline, who too spoke under the condition of anonymity. When contacted an Air India spokesperson didn’t offer comments.

According to the company’s data, Air India had 1,874 pilots as of 1 November, 2019. Of this, at least 1,308 were permanent employees while 566 were contractual employees.

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